The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust's Successes in Treating Baby Elephants in Field Conditions and Returning them back to their Families

It is always with a great sense of achievement that the Trust manages to assist an injured baby elephant, and after treatment by our Mobile Veterinary Unit, succeed in re-uniting it with its mother and elephant family again

It is always with a great sense of achievement that the Trust manages to assist an injured baby elephant, and after treatment by our Mobile Veterinary Unit, succeed in re-uniting it with its mother and elephant family again. There are many such success stories, none of them easy, for usually the mother and elephant family are very protective of the baby, but treating injuries under field conditions so that a baby can be returned to where it rightly belongs, is always a first option, rather than bringing it into care as an orphan. Over the past 18 months, since February 2004 up until July 2005, the following elephants have been able to be treated by our Mobile Veterinary Unit and re-united with their elephant family after Veterinary intervention.

February 2004:- A 2 year old calf in Amboseli, snared around the foot by a steel cable, which had cut deep into the leg. This would undoubtedly have eventually immobilized the calf completely, and possibly causing the foot to fall away. Under anaesthesia the cable snare was able to be removed, though not without difficulty, the wound cleaned out, and a long acting antibiotic administered. This calf recovered, and re-joined its elephant family.

September 2004:- A three year old calf was found with a snare which had cut through the skin on the right fore leg. After the calf was immobilised, two cows (the mother and possibly the herd matriarch) refused to leave.

We could not identify the mother in order to also immobilise it both cows were therefore chased away but remained in the vicinity during the calf's treatment. The herd quickly returned when the calf made the first sound after treatment was completed and the revival drug administered.

November 2004:- A 3 year old calf, with an old snare wound that was still swollen, and needed monitoring. After topical treatment, the baby was able to rejoin its elephant family.

April 2005:- This particularly case, involving a snared 2 month old baby, was particularly complicated, since both the mother and the entire elephant family were extremely protective of the injured baby. First, the mother was immobilized, but the family then went off with the injured calf, so our Vet had to trail the herd until he could get clear sight of it in amongst the adults in order to get an immobilizing dart into it. Having finally achieved this, and before the calf went down, he had to rush back and revive the immobilized mother. He then went in search of the calf, knowing that by now the immobilizing drug would have taken affect. By the time they found the sleeping calf, darkness had set in, and the family had abandoned it, probably believing it dead. He was able to remove the snare, but since the family was nowhere near, the calf had to be held captive for the night, fed only water.

At first light, a search party managed to locate the family again, which by now also included the mother of the baby. It was particularly heart-warming to witness the mother and elephant family lovingly embrace the baby they all thought they had lost, and back in Nairobi, we were both elated and very relieved to learn of such a happy ending, fearing that perhaps yet another little elephant would become an orphan.
June 2005:- Two young elephants were successfully treated and reunited with their families – a 2 month old baby with an arrow in the leg, whose mother also had to be immobilized in order for the calf to undergo treatment,
and a young 6 year old female suffering from a horrendous bullet wound in the left foreleg. This particular elephant later had to be immobilized again for a second treatment, since the wound was still very sceptic.
Having cleaned it again, and administered a further long-acting antibiotic to aid recovery, she has not been found dead, so we are hopeful that this, too, had a happy ending.

July 2005:- We were able to save a 12 year old female who had become stuck in mud at the Satao waterhole. Having pulled her free, she was given a long acting antibiotic injection as a precaution against pneumonia.

The event was watched by 3 hippos who were also in this small man-made waterhole, but who seemed to understand that the rescuers meant no ill, for they displayed no aggression.
Another young calf with a very swollen leg joint was immobilized, so that the joint could be examined. It was treated topically and given a systemic antibiotic injection to aid recovery.